We speak to the iconic British designer Simon Carter about today’s fashion climate and what luxury means to him.
How would you describe the Simon Carter man?
He is somebody with his own sense of style who is not that swayed by big brands. He is somebody who seeks out individuality.
Why do you think that English heritage has been a recurrent reference point for your designs?
I think the English have always been very innovative, sometimes in a subversive way. I mean if you go back to the 1790s, Beau Brummel [the original dandy] completely transformed the way that the people dressed across Europe, and I think we are still affecting and influencing the way people dress.
You’ve expanded your jewellery lines in recent years. How’s that going?
I’ve always done ladies watches and with the launch of our men’s jewellery, there’s a real crossover [between men’s and women’s jewellery]. People love to use the phrase gender fluid, and I think that’s true now of a lot of jewellery. I mean for instance, my best-selling designs on ASOS are men’s earrings, so the distinction really in the accessories world now between men’s and women’s jewellery and accessories is pretty blurred.
Was there was a moment when you felt like you’d ‘made it’?
I can remember the shop opening for my Covent Garden flagship store which we opened the day before Lehmans crashed, which was not a great time to open a flagship store but I can remember we had this big opening party. It was a big store, about 1,000 square foot, and it was beyond filled; it was spilling out onto the pavement, and me and my PR were having to rush round to Tesco every twenty minutes and buy more drink. And I’m standing on the other side of the pavement looking at this shop full of people having a good time with name above the door and I thought, ‘yeah – I’ve made it now’
When you were first getting started, you would visit shops and markets around London – do you still get a chance to do this today?
I still do that but perhaps not necessarily around the process of design, more perhaps if I’m looking for fixtures for my own shops, then I’ll spend a lot of time at auctions, antiques fairs, charity shops, car boot sales and things.
You’ve created lines specifically for ASOS and Harvey Nichols – what is it about a brand that makes you want to work with them?
I get approached quite a lot to do collaborations, but ASOS really intrigues me because it’s a customer who, generally speaking, is younger than my typical customer. I like the challenge of producing a range that would appeal to a man in his teens or early twenties, and then, with Harvey Nichols, I like the challenge of working with very fine materials that have almost no limit on price.
Today, the meaning of the word luxury has become muddied, but what does it mean to you?
Time. Luxury means having more time. Sophisticated people are always reinventing the word luxury and I don’t think it’s a word that anyone should really use. Its currency has become devalued. If you can buy luxury toilet paper, where is the luxury in that? Brands that position themselves as luxury aren’t because there’s nothing luxurious that you can buy in every airport in the world, surely? And increasingly what they [the customers] want is very versatile garments, so they want, say, a jacket that could team up with, oh I don’t know, their best pair of jeans and go to a wedding with a smart shirt, or they could wear with shorts and go to a beach party. I think today the idea of luxury, actually, is having the luxury of wearing a garment for many different occasions – that would be the definition of luxury, wouldn’t it?
Which designers are you a fan of?
Well, I’ve always admired Paul Smith. I’m always cautious using the word designer because I don’t think there are that many designers. I think there’s a lot of stylists. I think for designers you’d probably have to look to somebody like John Galliano – who I think genuinely was a designer – Issey Miyake, the designer…Alexander McQueen actually I think was a designer, in so far as they could design something that you’d never seen before that was fresh, that was genuinely different and genuinely pushed the fashion business further down the road. Whereas if you take someone like Ralph Lauren who has had a global effect on the world, but actually his designs are very backwards-looking – and that’s not a criticism, but he’s a stylist, he reinvents, and I think a true designer invents; there are very few of them.
How do you begin your creative process?
With a large gin and tonic.
In today’s turbulent political climate, what’s the significance of creativity?
I think sometimes you need a shake-up to generate a creative boost actually. I think that when times are kind of easy you can get a bit self-satisfied and a bit lazy in terms of design. And some of the most interesting designs historically have come out of periods of chaos actually. So I will be quite interested to see particularly what the young generation of designers coming through are going to do, perhaps in terms of protest fashion or fashion that reflects the times that we’re in, so actually, I think that it could be quite an exciting period of creativity.
Apart from designing, what other interests do you have?
I do play croquet competitively at a pretty high-level. I have, at my peak, played for England. I’m not sure whether I’d get back to that stage. I’d have to retire and spend a lot more time practicing.
What are your future plans for Simon Carter?
I’m opening five shops in India this year and I’m very excited about that and that’s part of a plan eventually to open eighty shops. And if that goes to plan then I think that’s a model that we could take to other really important emerging markets, perhaps in Latin or South America.
Shop Simon Carter’s latest collection at Manchester’s House of Fraser or online at simoncarter.com
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